Agency sets new doe tag for CWD area

Harrisburg — This is a laser that cuts a pretty wide swath.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has created a new type of tag for killing deer – a disease management area 2 antlerless deer permit – that’s meant to direct hunters to the disease area specifically rather than the rest of surrounding Wildlife Manage­ment Unit 4A, which takes in portions of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Fulton and Franklin counties.

But they will soon be very nearly the same.

The agency will soon announce that it is simultaneously expanding the boundaries of disease management area 2 south to the Maryland border and east. That’s meant to account for the discovery of additional deer with CWD, here and in Maryland.

The result is that, long before deer season arrives, disease management area 2 is going to take in 83.55 percent of unit 4A overall.

So why bother with a new tag?

It’s either the solution to a board-created problem or the appropriate way to focus hunter efforts, depending on who you are talking to.

The tag was created after the commission’s most recent meeting in April. Meeting in Harrisburg, commissioners gave final approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2014-15 hunting year. They also set the number of doe licenses to be available.

The board reduced the number of doe licenses across 18 of the 23 wildlife management units, with each commissioner getting the chance to suggest a number of tags they felt was appropriate based on scientific recommendations from their team of deer biologists and “social” factors related to hunter comments and complaints.

Four units saw their doe license allocation remain the same as last year; one, 4B, saw the number of licenses go up, from 24,000 to 26,000.

Commissioners also changed the deer season in units 4A and 4C from 12 days of concurrent buck and doe hunting to five days of buck-only hunting followed by seven days of concurrent hunting.

That process went along with little debate among board members until it came to unit 4A.

There, Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County – who recommended shortening doe season there – also suggested slashing the number of doe tags.

Biologists wanted 42,000 if the board was going to vote for a seven-day doe season. Layton recommended 28,000, a cut of 33 percent, and the board approved it.

That didn’t happen without Commissioner Ralph Martone raising a question, though.

Unit 4A, he noted, is the one place in the state with chronic wasting disease in the wild deer herd. Biologists wanted to trim the deer herd there by one animal per square mile in an attempt to keep the disease at bay.

Allocating just 28,000 doe tags would allow the herd to actually increase, though. Layton himself admitted it was designed to grow the deer herd by 20 percent within one year.

Was that really what he wanted to do? Martone asked.

“My concern is with CWD at this point,” he said.

Layton, though, said he believes CWD will ultimately spread to the point that “the disease management area is going to be the state of Pennsylvania.” Hunters will keep hunting even when that’s the case, though.

In the meantime, the agency should respond to their desire to have more deer, he added. That’s what was behind his recommendation, he added.

“I’m comfortable with what we did,” Layton said immediately after the board meeting.

Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, also defended the changes, saying hunters in unit 4A “want more deer on the landscape” and this will give it to them.

Several obviously upset members of the commission’s wildlife staff agreed, but warned the consequences could be serious. Cal DuBrock, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, predicted that not only would the unit’s deer herd “grow substantially,” but chronic wasting disease will spread over a larger part of it in the future faster than otherwise.

“This is an area where the public is going to ask this board, ask this staff, are you serious about managing CWD,” DuBrock said.

That’s where the “fix” soon came into play.

Two days after the board meeting, senior staff within the commission met and developed a plan to create the disease area-specific doe permits. Crafted via executive order, 14,000 will be offered, enough to bring the combined total number of antlerless deer permits and licenses back up to the 42,000 staff wanted originally.

The move – which will be publicly announced via a commission news release soon – came about after staff sat down to figure out “what we can do to fix this,” said Executive Director Matt Hough.

“Our idea is to harvest deer in [the disease area] and keep the herd down to control CWD,” Hough said. “I don’t think anyone has any expectation that we’re going to get rid of it. But I think we need to do everything we can to slow it down as much as we can.”

The permits could potentially lower the deer herd in the disease management area by two deer per square mile, he said.

Layton said that’s what he wanted all along, was a doe tag specific to the disease area.

“That’s what we were really trying to do, focus hunters on the [disease area], rather than the entire wildlife management unit. So it worked,” Layton said.

That’s in some dispute. Layton said he’s been talking about a DMA-specific doe tag since January. Hough said no one on staff knew that. When asked if he or anyone within the agency had been asked to develop such a tag, he said “not that we remember.”

Either way, the permits will be available, albeit in different ways than hunters are used to.

Permits will cost $6.70, the same as a regular doe license, said commission spokesman Travis Lau. The timeline for applying for them will mirror that of getting regular doe licenses, too.

But there are some differences. Hunters will have to buy disease management area permits online, at the agency’s Outdoor Shop, or by printing out a form and mailing it in, rather than through county treasurers.

Unlike with regular doe licenses – where state residents get first opportunity – state residents and nonresidents will be able to apply for them at the same time. They’ll only be allowed to put one application in an envelope, too; doe licenses can contain three applications.

All hunters with a disease area permit will be required to report to the commission whether they killed a deer or not. The penalty for failing to do so will be stiffer than it is for regular reporting failure, Lau said.

The biggest difference between a disease management permit and a regular doe license, though, is when they can be used.

Hunters with a disease permit can use them to kill a doe throughout the two-week firearms deer season, so long as they stay within the boundaries of the disease management area, Hough said. Hunters with a regular doe license for unit 4A won’t be allowed to hunt antlerless deer until the firearms season’s first Saturday.

“We think this will work. We think we were able to come up with a solution,” Hough said.

Layton isn’t entirely comfortable with that part of the program. He said it’s a “little bit troubling” that hunters with a disease permit can shoot does throughout the two-week firearms season. He’s worried hunters won’t know the boundaries of the disease area, too.

But he’s willing to live with that for the time being, he said.

“Right now we need to get the permits out and not haggle over the details,” Layton said.

Categories: CWD, Hunting News, Social Media, Whitetail Deer

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